Minerals are essential elements required by our bodies to flourish and function properly. One among which is iron. It is majorly present in the red blood cells as hemoglobin and in the cells of muscles as myoglobin. It helps in the process of oxygenating the bloodstream and converting blood sugar into energy. It is also essential for the functioning of the immune system and advancing cognitive functioning. Iron supply in the body can get depleted due to various reasons such as insufficient intake, poor absorption, loss of blood (either during menstruation or injury), and increased demand during growth or pregnancy.
How much iron do we need daily?
Iron requirements vary from person to person. It is dependent on factors like age, sex, and dietary preferences. Anemia, a condition caused by iron deficiency, can lead to extreme fatigue and weakness in the body, pale skin, weak nails and brittle hair, and difficulty breathing. The production of iron does not happen in the human body. It is only absorbed. Hence, consumption of an adequate amount daily is necessary for a normal person to avoid health complications. Anemia can have some adverse effects as well so it is crucial for an anemic person to stay fit avoid health emergency.
According to the recommended dietary allowances, an average male teen requires 8-11 mg of iron, and a female requires 8-15 mg. An average adult male needs 8 mg of iron, and a female needs 18 mg. The daily iron requirement for an average adult male and female are 8 mg and 18 mg, respectively. Iron requirements can go higher in expecting and lactating females, and growing children. Here we have combined a list of the top 10 iron rich foods that anyone can add to their diet for their daily dose.
Healthy Foods That Are High in Iron
NSS 68th Round reported that 99% of the iron in the diet was contributed from plant sources and only 1% from animal sources. There are dozens of iron rich fruits and vegetables to choose from. Following are the top 10 iron rich foods that you can consume to increase your hemoglobin levels:
Shellfish, a general term for seafood, includes crab, lobster, shrimp, scallops, mussels, and oysters. It is the second richest source among the top 10 iron-rich foods for non vegetarians. Oysters, clams, and mussels have iron in abundance. A 100-gram serving of shellfish contains 3 mg of iron, an adequate daily intake.
Spinach is an excellent plant source of iron. A serving of 100 gm provides about 2.6 mg of iron. Raw spinach is also rich in vitamin C, which helps iron absorption. In this list of the top 10 iron rich foods, spinach is a good diet recommendation for vegetarians and vegans with iron deficiency.
Liver and other organ meats
Another group that charts the list of top 10 iron-rich foods is the liver and other organ meats like kidney, brain, and heart. They are nutritious and contain protein, copper, b vitamins, and selenium in plenty, apart from iron. An intake of 100 grams provides 6.5 mg of iron.
Another must-have for any diet is legumes. Lentils, soybeans, chickpeas, peas, and other sorts of peas, common to the Indian diet, are all good sources of iron. Legumes, the most commonly available among the top 10 iron rich foods, are also rich in protein and fiber. A good serving of 100 grams of legumes can contain 1.5 to 6 mg of iron. Chickpeas have an abundant iron amount of 6.5 mg. In addition to being a good source of iron, chickpeas are also good for digestion.
Red meat contains around 2 to 5 mg of iron per 100 grams serving. It is also rich in zinc, protein and selenium. The iron content of red meat is highly absorbable and its procurement is easy compared to shellfish, which makes it an easy addition to any non-vegetarian diet.
Pumpkin seeds are the best source of iron. A perfect item to add to the diet of those with a sensitive stomach, it provides about 9.8 mg of iron in one cup serving. It can be consumed as a snack or mixed with other meals.
Next on the list of the top 10 iron rich foods, a boon for vegans, quinoa is a plant source addition you can make into your diet. 1 mg of iron is present in 158 grams of quinoa. Zinc, folate, and magnesium are other minerals quinoa contains.
This meat has a moderate amount of iron present in it. Dark meat has a better proportion of iron as compared to light meat as it has 1.4 mg and 0.7 mg of iron, respectively, per 100-gram serving. It is low in saturated fat which makes it a healthy choice too. Combining it with vitamin C-rich foods can help increase iron absorption.
Another one among the greens is broccoli. A serving of one cup of broccoli contains 1 mg of iron. Although it isn’t a significant amount, it can be a fairly good supplementary addition to the vegetarians’ iron rich fruits and vegetables diet. Broccoli is also a good source of fiber and antioxidants.
Lastly on the list of the top 10 iron rich foods is tofu. Like other foods, it also can be combined and consumed with other vitamin C-rich foods for better absorption. It is also low in fat. A serving of 126 grams contains about 3.4 mg of iron. Tofu is a versatile ingredient as it can be added to create many unique dishes.
Furthermore, iron rich indian fruits and dry fruits like raisins, dates and apricots are an excellent source of iron that can be added to your daily diet.
Factors Affecting the Absorption of Iron
Several factors influence the absorption of iron. There are different types of iron rich fruits and vegetables, seafood, poultry, and meat. Some are mentioned above in the list of the top 10 iron rich foods. Iron is present in these foods in basically two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme is present in animal flesh like meat, seafood, and poultry and non-heme in whole grains, seeds, legumes, leafy vegetables, and nuts.
Heme is more easily absorbed than non-heme. Vitamin C also helps in iron absorption. So it is called an enhancer. There are also inhibitors like phytates, polyphenols, calcium, and oxalic acid in foods that inhibit the absorption of iron. When your body’s iron store is low, absorption of iron increases, and when the iron store is high, absorption decreases.
Side Effects of Excessive Iron Intake
Excessive iron intake can lead to toxicity. There is a condition called hemochromatosis, in which too much iron is absorbed by the body. It happens due to genetic reasons and leads to multiple organ failure. Iron supplements consumed without care and extended for periods longer than required can become a casualty. Supplements should be taken in consultation with your health care service provider. Sometimes overdosing on iron-containing foods can occur. It usually happens to small children left unsupervised. Accidental iron overdose is one of the causes of deadly poisoning in children. Situations like these can be handled with proper health safety training and avoided in the first place with adequate supervision.